There are getting to be so many Flashes around, that the cumulative strobe effect of your typical Mark Waid book is inducing more cases of epilepsy than your average Pokemon cartoon.
In the beginning, there was the original Flash, Jay Garrick. Blue pants, red shirt with a yellow lightning bolt, and a shiny metal helmet reminiscent of Mercury, one of the Greek gods, who had dominion over thieves and, apparently, flowers. He received his super-speed through that old standby of the origins catalog, a laboratory accident.
[Personal note: During my sophomore through senior years getting my own chemistry degree, I taught introductory chemistry labs to a lot of younger students. As part of the orientation-to-the-lab spiel (the fumehoods, the emergency showers, the nearest windows to jump out of just in case, etc.), I made a point of dispelling a few myths they might have been exposed to over the years:
- Bites from radioactive spiders will not give the proportionate strength and abilities of said spiders.
- Breathing in the fumes of chemical concoctions will not give you super-powers.
- Exposure to radiation will not turn you mean and green ("Frosh smash!!!!")
In other words, the lab can be dangerous and is no place to look for an origin, no matter how desperately you want to shoot anti-matter rays from your fingertips.]
Next came the silver age Flash. He's the one in the strip at the top of this page. In keeping with tradition, he also received his powers in a laboratory accident. (Just where did these guys go to school anyway? And what kind of damage trail did they leave behind them?) Police scientist Barry Allen was standing in front of a cabinet holding a wide array of chemicals when a lightning bolt struck the cabinet through a window, dousing him with most of them. After he woke up, did he run for the nearest shower facility? Nope, he's late for a dinner date. Running after a taxi, he found that the accident had given him super-speed.
Flash number three: Barry's nephew, Wally West. While hanging with Uncle Barry at police HQ during a thunderstorm, Barry's origin repeated itself, this time on li'l Wally. Next thing you know, Wally's calling himself 'Kid Flash'. In true comic book fashion, Wally managed to hide his extracurricular bad-guy-hunting activities from his parents for years, before finally telling them around the time of his high-school graduation.
(This assumes that one of my favorite Flash stories is still considered canon; it was a Gorilla Grodd story featuring Jay, Barry, Wally, and yet another speed-based hero, Johnny Quick.)
Speaking of Mr. Quick, a.k.a. broadcast journalist Johnny Chambers, he originally got his super-speed by reciting a secret formula out loud. It never seemed to work for anyone else, though. A retroactive explanation came out a few years ago, indicating that reciting the formula acted only as a form of self-hypnosis, allowing Johnny to tap into the speed powers that were intrinsic to him all along. Yeah, right.
Then there are the speedsters of a more recent vintage. Impulse is like Kid Flash with Attention Deficit Disorder. I'll admit to being unclear on the details, but I think he's supposed to be one of Barry's descendants, sent back in time to the twentieth century, but I never really paid too much attention to the details. So sue me.
Still another Flash descendent is alive and well in the thirtieth century; XS (say it out loud, you'll get it) is a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, who are on the verge of becoming all gritty and dramatic again for a while.
There's a bunch of others around, too, but I don't really know much more about them than their names. Max Mercury, John Fox (a Flash from yet a different century), and assorted others. Oh, yeah, Johnny Quick has a daughter - Jesse Quick - who's as much a sprinter as her old man was.
Finally, the most recent addition to the All-Flash roster is the guy people are calling 'Dark Flash'. Just after Wally ended a recent storyline by becoming one with the mysterious 'speed force' - which theoretically supplies all speedsters with their abilities - and vanishing, a new, different Flash appeared. How do we know he's different? He's edgier. He's abrupt. He's mastered new speed tricks that no one's ever seen before. Most importantly, his costume is dark, dark red with silver trim, instead of the traditional bright red with gold trim.
The new guy's identity is still under wraps (or under cowl, if you prefer), but rest assured that whoever writer Mark Waid makes him out to be, a lot of people are going be mighty pissed off.